After no sleep and ample alone time, I rejoined the group with surprising alacrity. After a life-restoring cold shower, I encountered The Bard fresh off a long bus ride from The South.
“What’s up, man!” I said with elan.
“Tired,” he replied.
It was noon. The gang was awake. It was time to explore. Gyeongbokgung Palace was the move. Scrabbles chose to stay and rest. I don’t blame her. The rest of us moved out.
Empowered my metro adventures and copious coffee, I led the way. We took Line 1, transferred to Line 3, and arrived promptly at Gyeongbokgung Palace.
“Wow,” I thought. “What a juxtaposition.” Here we were, in an ancient palace in the heart of a major metropolitan city. The view was unreal.
We explored the palace, pleasantly surprised by the free admission. However, my excitement lasted all of 30 minutes.
“This is beautiful,” I thought, “but it all looks the same.”
The Bard shared my sentiments. We were ready to drink.
“There is a soju room,” mentioned The Bard.
“Let’s do it.”
We looked all corners of the palace, finding nothing but disappointment. There was no soju room, only an authentic tea room. Potato, The King, and Nightmare were still exploring and anticipating an authentic traditional Korean teahouse experience.
“Are you over it?” I asked The Bard.
“Yeah. Let’s go find a convenience store.”
So we did just that. I opened my Around Me app and found two convenience stores one block away. We walked and passed several museums and government buildings steeped in brutalist architecture.
We ended up in a posh neighborhood complete with lush trees and park benches – the ideal soju drinking spot. We purchased three bottles at the local Ministop and proceeded to carouse.
What great conversation it was. Many conversations with The Bard bring me joy and meaning. He has quite a way with words. I also discovered that Cha-mi-sul keu-rae-sik (the classic red-capped bottle) was superior to the “Fresh” variety I previously preferred. A middle-aged Korean man even joined in our revelry sipping a can of coffee. He spoke exceptional English by virtue of his Carnegie Mellon University education.
“Never marry a Korean woman,” he forewarned. All we could do was laugh and raise our bottles.
“I’ll drink to that,” I said.
We split the third bottle before The King alerted us of the group’s readiness to move on.
We met up at the apartment and prepared our long-planned Chuseok dinner.
The King made Musubi. It was regally delicious, as only his grace is capable of. Spam and rice wrapped in seaweed form a tasty combination if anyone wishes to expand their gustatory horizons.
Potato prepared Vietnamese rice wraps (with Korean ingredients). Shrimp, cucumbers, rice, chopped carrot, and a yummy kalbi sauce capped a copious round of appetizers.
Next was Nightmare (whose arduous grocery shopping should be commended). He prepared bibimbap – a traditional Korean dish of rice, meat, and vegetables mixed together in a bowl.
Finally, I prepared the dish I cook on a regular basis – bo-kum stir-fry). I mixed seasoned pork, mushrooms, onions, and kalbi sauce into a tasty trio. With a full stomach, I dearly appreciated our Chuseok feast.
Since moving to Korea, my dining life is trifurcated into three realms – the meals I cook for myself, the school lunches I wolf down after skipping breakfast, and the meals I eat out with teachers and friends. Until Chuseok, I had yet to cook and enjoy a meal in the company of friends.
All were full and grateful.
I even prepared a speech. (Don’t judge me. I wrote this off-the-cuff after my sleepless Seoul adventure):
A week ago, I listened to an audiobook (Bridge to Brilliance by Nadia Lopez) that made a very cogent point about what a friend is. When we are schoolchildren, we are quick to call everyone our friend. In reality, most of us have very few friends. Some have no friends at all.
We often mistake peers and acquaintances for friends.
I have only known (The Mokpo Misfits) for a little over six weeks. However, with each passing week, I feel closer and closer to calling each of them a friend. Today I consider them friends for real.
Before I came to Korea, I was nervous. Some days I was downright scared. I was scared I would be lonely. I was scared I would have to shoulder the burden of culture shock on my own. I was scared that I would struggle to survive and fail to thrive.
Six weeks into this adventure, I can happily say that I no longer struggle to survive. I credit part of this success to the people that surround me.
Whenever I need to say something, they lend their ears.
Whenever my back aches from the burden of mental baggage, they lend their arms and shoulders, lightening my load.
Whenever my mind wanders into dark clouds and removes me from the clarity of the present, they keep me grounded.
Whenever I feel lonely, they give me a sense of belonging.
Whenever I struggle, they commiserate with me.
It has only been six weeks. Life is not always easy. There are challenges, hurdles, trials, and tribulations. I work to find new solutions to emerging day-to-day problems. I still need to adapt in many ways. I still have good days and bad days.
However, one thing I don’t feel is scared. I am not scared of not surviving here. Rather I am striving to thrive. I owe many thanks to (The Mokpo Misfits) for that.
After dinner, fatigue finally finished me…for a moment. I laid down for a nap.
However, I awoke 90 minutes later to hear a rousing game of truth or dare. I joined in, unwilling to miss this prime opportunity for connection.
Life in a new country and culture is not always easy, but my group of friends always give me countless reasons to be grateful. I felt blessed on this day that is frequently translated as “Korean Thanksgiving.”
The palace entrance is beautiful, but each gate felt like a progressively smaller Russian nested doll of the same design.
This is the view from the fourth floor of my school. I circled my apartment building in red. I have quite the cushy commute.
If I get buried, I hope my loved ones won’t fold me up like a lawn chair.
This is Mokpo’s famous “Rose Street” a lovely commercial alleyway with a winding park path smack-dab in the middle.
When we all go out, Nightmare frequently says and does things that Potato can hardly process.